Peru is a beautiful country located in the northwest of South America, popular among an ever increasing number of English speaking tourists. But just how widely spoken is English there? Can tourists expect to get by there with just English alone?
English is not widely spoken overall in Peru, with an estimated proficiency of around 10% or less. However, it is spoken more in Lima, Cusco, and other major central tourist spots, and by tour guides and younger people.
Tourists have never reported any problems getting by there visiting the most popular places, though it is also widely recommended that having some basic Spanish phrases will be useful to help when conversing with locals.
In terms of actual statistics, it is actually difficult to find precise numbers or percentages of Peru’s 30 million or so people who can actually speak English. Some articles on this topic cite a 2015 study by a company called GfK Peru which reported English prevalence of around 8%, but I can no longer find a link to this reference.
However, anecdotal evidence from tourists suggests that, in line with much of the rest of South America, overall levels of English proficiency are low, around 10% or possibly a bit less overall. The official language of Peru is actually Spanish.
However, as with so many other countries with enough tourism, the people that do speak English are for obvious reasons concentrated into the areas that tourists visit more often. This means that as long as you are going to the main places tourists tend to go, you’ll be able to get by mostly just using English.
This includes hotels/desk staff and restaurants in popular tourist spots like the capital Lima. However, visitors to Peru do comment that taxi drivers often do not speak good English, so be sure to have your destinations written down in clear Spanish, as well as hotel address cards to get you back. Have the hotel front desk arrange any taxis if you anticipate any language barrier issues.
Also if you plan to use buses in particular, be ready for drivers and station staff to not speak English. Having some Spanish phrases will really help you if you planning to bus it across the country, even if just for the numbers of tickets to request, and to understand the prices. See the last section for more on basic Spanish.
Peru is in the northwest of South America, bordered by Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador
Spoken English in Major Tourist Spots in Peru
Let’s be more specific though and break down the reported levels of spoken English in some of the most common visited tourist destinations/cities in Peru.
Lima – Capital city, receives the most tourists, so English is widely enough spoken in the central areas to get by easily, especially hotels. Restaurants in the central areas will also have English menus. Young people will also speak at least a little English. No problems reported even from those who had extended stays there speaking little or no Spanish; however having a Spanish phrasebook will still help.
Cusco – Very similar to Lima, receives enough tourists that English is spoken in restaurants and hotels. If the waiter doesn’t speak English, he’ll swap out for one that does; you’ll have no problems getting by. Have some Spanish phrases ready though to help make conversing easier. Again younger people have the best chance of being able to speak English if you need directions, or else use translation and map apps on your phone.
Machu Picchu – Very popular tourist spot in Cusco. Guides and staff there will still speak English, and English language leaflets are always available. There are loads of tour companies offering trips here in English. However, if you want to climb Huaynu Picchi, the peak behind Machu Picchu, you need to get a permit in advance. Having some Spanish will help with this.
Mount Salkantay – Popular for hikers and backpackers that want to go out into the sticks a bit more. Tour guides will still speak English, and are universally reported to be very friendly and helpful. As you move further out, locals will not speak English but will still be very friendly and welcoming.
Other Attractions – Places like the Colca Canyon, Sacred Valley and Saqsaywaman will have tours and tour guides there who can speak English – plenty of Americans and Brits go there every year so they are ready for this. As you move further out on tours, elders and locals you meet in remote areas will likely not speak English but your guides will act as intermediaries and can verse you in local dialects and phrases (even Spanish may not be so common in really remote areas, with other dialects used instead).
Spanish & Other Languages in Peru
The official language of Peru is actually Spanish, with around 80-85% of the population speaking it. The Spanish dialect is considered more “plain” and straightforward than some other Latin American countries, however it does have some of it’s own idiosyncracies and specific words that are used.
However, for the purposes of tourists wishing to learn a few basic phrases to help get by and make a good impression with the locals, standard Spanish will be plenty good enough and well understood. See the next section for more on learning some useful phrases.
The Spanish dialect in Peru is broken down into three distinct categories depending on the region of Peru:
- Andean Spanish – Spoken in central and interior parts of Peru.
- Peruvian Coast Spanish – Spoken on the western coast areas that face the Pacific Ocean.
- Amazonic Spanish – Spoken in the eastern and northern region that border Brazil and the Amazon jungle.
The Spanish dialect in Peru has three distinct types – Costeno (Coastal), Andino (Andean) and Amazónico (Amazonian). There are some grammatical and pronunciation differences between them but standard Spanish will still be understood in all these parts. (Image credit – Hidra92, Wikimedia Commons – see here).
However, as well as Spanish, Peru also has a rich history of different languages and dialects, being an ancient country with a strong indigenous Inca heritage. The most common of these indigenous languages are Quenchua, Aymara, Jaqaru and Kawki.
You don’t need to worry about learning any of these languages; tour guides may slip in a few phrases if you are visiting areas where they are spoken by indigenous people, but other than that English and a little Spanish will get you by fine anywhere you go in Peru.
Learning Some Basic Spanish Phrases
As we’ve covered, if you are going to be staying in the common tourist spots, like central Lima and Cusco you can get by just using English. Many tourists report having no problems there not using Spanish.
However, as with visiting any foreign country, it always helps to learn some of the local language, since the people you meet will always appreciate you at least being able to greet and open conversations in Spanish.
Also if you’re planning on going “off the beaten path”, to more remote and less visited parts of Peru, having some Spanish really will come in handy, since spoken English will drop to near zero in more remote parts.
Here are some basic Spanish phrases to get you started. Again standard Spanish is fine despite all the local dialects; you’ll be understood and they’ll appreciate you making the effort. You will tend to learn any local variations and slang as you go along
|See you later||Vos vemos||Vos vemos|
|Good morning||Buenos dias||Bwenos dee-ass|
|Good afternoon||Buenos tardes||Bwenos tar-dez|
|Good night||Buenos noches||Bwenos notch-ez|
|See you tomorrow||Hasta mañana||Asta man-yana|
|What is your name?||Cuál es tu nombre?||Kwall es too nombrey?|
|My name is.....||Mi nombre es||Me nombrey es........|
|How are you?||¿Cómo andás?||Co-mo andas?|
|Nice to meet you||Encantado de conocerle||Encan-tardo deh cono-therley
|Please||Por favor||Poor favoor|
|You're welcome||De nada||deh naa da|
|Sorry||Lo siento||Loh see en-toh|
|Sorry? (didn't hear something)||Perdon?||Per-dohn?|
|Excuse me, do you speak English?||Perdon, yo sólo hablo Inglés?||Per-dohn, yo solo hab-low in-glaze?|
|Menu of the day||Menu del dia||Menu del dee-a|
|How much is it?||Cuánto es?||Kwanto es?|
|Where is the bathroom?||¿dónde está el baño?||Don-day estah el banyo|
|I don't understand||No lo comprendo||Noh loh comprendo|
If you’re looking for a language learning app, Mondly offers 41 languages (including Spanish) for you to learn on any device, with plans starting from $4/month, and a free version also accessible with no signup required. It is used by over 100 million people worldwide and has excellent overall reviews with it’s easy user interface and emphasis on quick learning and progress. See our overview of the platform here.
Some Useful Info on Peruvian Spanish
Language & Travel Essentials For Visiting Peru
- Essential stats on Peru:
- Population: 32 million
- Time zone: EST +0 hours; GMT -5 hours.
- Currency: Peruvian sol (PEN) ($1 = 3.84 PEN; £1= 4.54 PEN at time of writing)
- International calling code: +51 (see here for getting a working local SIM card/number when abroad)
- Drives on the right
- Luggage allowances – see here for an excellent guide on luggage allowances (checked and cabin) for all major airlines worldwide.